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Business, violence and conflict: complex solutions for complex environments

23-06-2014 Feature

No single organization or State can end business involvement in human rights abuses and humanitarian law violations in conflict zones. That was the conclusion of a panel discussion in London on the value of multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) in improving the conduct of firms and their employees working amid violence.


The panel at the launch of the Business, Violence and Conflict issue

The panel. L-R: Claude Voillat, Seema Joshi, Dr Hugo Slim, Jan Klawitter, Scott Jerbi

The discussion, co-organized with the Institute for Human Rights and Business, launched an edition of the International Review of the Red Cross on business, violence and conflict. It gathered around 100 business people, government officials and civil society representatives to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London on June 17th.

One of the most hotly debated issues for those working on business, rights and international law is the value of MSIs, which have proliferated in the last decade. They bring together businesses, governments and civil society to set rules and guidelines for those operating amid violence.

The event took place 3 years after the United Nations Human Rights Council endorsed the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights that set a global standard for preventing and responding to the adverse impact of business activity on human rights.

Yet faith in the ability of voluntary initiatives to effect real change on the ground is starting to wane, argued some panellists.

Major MSIs include the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, in which the ICRC participates as an observer; the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative; and the Kimberly Process, which aims to stem the flow of ‘conflict diamonds’. Comparable initiatives have been developed targeting private security companies.

The merit of treaty law versus voluntary regulation was one of the points of division between panellists during the discussion of the perceived successes and inadequacies of MSIs as a tool for preventing and addressing abuses. Another was the challenge civil society organisations face in ensuring their views are given the weight they feel due.

The panel included  the ICRC’s Claude Voillat, Seema Joshi of Amnesty International, Jan Klawitter of mining firm AngloAmerican, and Scott Jerbi of the Institute for Human Rights and Business. The event was introduced by Paul Arkwright, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Multilateral Policy Director and chaired by Hugo Slim of the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict.

Mr Voillat highlighted the launch by the ICRC and the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces of an online knowledge hub containing guidance on addressing security and human rights challenges in complex environments. Find it here

Read the edition of the International Review of the Red Cross on Business, violence and conflict here


The FCO's Multilateral Policy Director Paul Arkwright addresses the audience.
© ICRC / Alex Rumford



Locarno room, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, London.
© ICRC / Alex Rumford


Amnesty International's Seema Joshi and chair Dr Hugo Slim.
© ICRC / Alex Rumford


The Institute for Human Rights and Business' Scott Jerbi.
© ICRC / Alex Rumford


ICRC's Economic Adviser Claude Voillat.
© ICRC / Alex Rumford